Ride Like a Thai

by Poi on February 7, 2011

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One of the biggest things that hits you in Asia is just how crazy the traffic is, compared to western standards anyway. Sure they have lanes and traffic lights etc but do they really mean anything to the people driving, or should I say riding, as mopeds are far more common than cars over this side of the world and they rule the road. Over the last month I’ve gone from doing practice laps around our block to driving like a Thai on the busiest roads in the city, so what are my tips for fitting in from behind your helmet and sunglasses?

That seems like a valid place to start:

Helmets – In Thailand by law you have to wear a helmet this also goes for passengers. Needless to say this rule is not always followed, maybe less than 50% of the time. The police do try to enforce the rule, but it doesn’t seem to be working. It seems that most will take a fine than ride with a helmet others just keep a helmet in their basket and pop it on when they pass the cops!

My tip: Wear a helmet of course, Kirsty and I do everywhere – Traffic crazy enough as it is, you don’t want a fine to go with it.

Riding a moped in Chiang Mai, Thailand

It’s hard to look cool on a moped, so don’t even try….

Speed away from Danger – Sometimes the easiest way to avoid being killed in traffic is to speed away from a potential dangerous incident, it’s common to end up between a number of cars all switching lanes, normally slowing down is the safest bet but here this can leave you further trapped.

My tip: you’re on a moped, you’re not very wide, Use this to your advantage and get the hell out of there by speeding out of the way!

Traffic Lights – Its best practice to get to the front of the queue when at traffic lights, this will give you an easy getaway without being crushed by cars. So squeeze through and get to the front, don’t worry it’s the done thing.

My tip – Just because you’ve got to the front don’t expect to still be there when the lights change, chances are 100 other mopeds will have pulled up in front of you not only blocking you but traffic in all other directions as well.

Follow the Crowd – If they can through that gap why can’t you, the joy of being on a moped is skipping through the crowds, so make the most of your size and fly past and laugh at all the poor people in cars.

My Tip: Moped riding is in the Thai’s blood, remember they have had a lot of practice, by all means go for the gap but take it steady, you don’t wanna be taking any wing mirrors with you.

The Curb – Despite what you may think the curb is not for walking on, think of it more as extension of the road, need somewhere to park? Going the wrong way down a one way street? Then the curb is the place for you!

My tip: Only when extremely necessary, some curbs can be over a foot high, you’re not downhill mountain biking so watch out, some people do still walk on them.

But the number one way to drive like a Thai is……… to load your bike up with as many random objects as you can, the bigger the better, the wider the better. When, and only when, does your bike look beyond possible to ride yet somehow the wheels start to roll, this is when you have graduated.


Disclaimer: These are possibly the worst tips to give to a new moped driver in Asia and SHOULD NOT be followed, take them as intended, with a pinch of salt and a giggle.

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{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

Dan Collins February 7, 2011 at 11:22 pm

You’re a lot braver than me riding one of those over here! I fear stepping out on to the road in front of one never mind getting on one! I’ve nearly died hanging off the back of a tuk tuk a few times though. Those things arent made for 6 people!!
Dan Collins´s last blog post ..Travel Update

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Poi February 8, 2011 at 4:47 pm

Here has nothing on Vietnam, after coming from there Chiang Mai seems pretty safe traffic wise. Most we’ve had is 4 in a tuk tuk. you’re winning there!

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Jaime February 8, 2011 at 12:07 am

Ja love it. These seem like easy rules to follow and like things everyone should know. From the looks of it, all rules change in Asia and you have to be smart about it all.
Jaime´s last blog post ..ShitMyCustomersSay

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Poi February 8, 2011 at 4:48 pm

Asia is so different for driving – best bet is to just go with the flow

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Christy @ Technosyncratic February 8, 2011 at 3:45 am

Your disclaimer made me snort soymilk. Thanks for that. 😛

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Poi February 8, 2011 at 4:49 pm

Haha just what I wanted! I thought it was important to let people know it’s a very bad idea to follow my advice.

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Michael Hodson February 8, 2011 at 8:08 am

good tips — I loved riding over there. Fun, but then again, I never got in any sort of road trouble.
Michael Hodson´s last blog post ..Photo of the Day- Devil’s Marbles- Australia

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Poi February 8, 2011 at 4:50 pm

I’m hoping we’ll be the same, I’m maybe getting a bit too confident but I still try to take it steady.

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Kyle Morgan February 8, 2011 at 4:32 pm

I don’t trust myself on a moped, least of all with Southeast Asia drivers. In the last week driving around Malaysia, I’ve seen two serious accidents involving mopeds. Be careful!
Kyle Morgan´s last blog post ..Beach Bonfire on Playa Maderas

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Poi February 8, 2011 at 4:51 pm

I’ve only seen a couple the whole time we’ve been in Chiang Mai, it’s a good place to learn so it’ll probably be like starting fresh when we try it anywhere else…

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Jeremy February 8, 2011 at 8:50 pm
Poi February 8, 2011 at 10:00 pm

Glad you agree Jeremy!

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Anthony February 8, 2011 at 8:53 pm

“The curb is not for walking” that is definitely true. You can pretty much ride your moped wherever it will fit. I agree with not slowing down and speeding up to get out of trouble. When we were riding in Vietnam, we had some hairy incidents and accelerating just got us out of trouble.
Anthony´s last blog post ..The War Memorial In Sandakan

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Poi February 8, 2011 at 10:01 pm

You’re right, it sounds wrong but it’s easily the best way, speed away from danger before getting caught up in it.
Not so easy to do when you’ve only been on the bike for a few hours though…

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Andi of My Beautiful Adventures February 9, 2011 at 2:32 am

The traffic in Asia is insane, even though I’ve experienced it more than a dozen time it continues to blow my mind!
Andi of My Beautiful Adventures´s last blog post ..Meet My Fiance- Lucas

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Poi February 9, 2011 at 3:13 pm

It is madness, the actual rules of the road don’t seem to count but there are a few unwritten ones that do!

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Christy @ Ordinary Traveler February 9, 2011 at 6:46 am

The part about how the curb is not for walking really made me laugh. Seriously, I never felt safe walking in Vietnam and busy cities in Thailand. I even got hit by a motorbike!
Christy @ Ordinary Traveler´s last blog post ..Our Brush with Death in the Land of Dr Seuss Trees 20

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Poi February 9, 2011 at 3:14 pm

oh no, hope you were alright?

Vietnam, especially Saigon is crazy even compared to Chiang Mai!

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Erica February 10, 2011 at 5:27 pm

Shaun used to have a motorcycle and speeding up during potentially dangerous times saved our skins on more than one occasion. Great advice!
Erica´s last blog post ..Not a Vacation

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Poi February 13, 2011 at 11:57 am

There we go, at least now I know I was doing something right, I’m desperate to have a go on a proper big boy bike now!

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Caz Makepeace February 12, 2011 at 5:17 pm

Great tips guys. Riding around on mopeds is our fave way of exploring. IT is always an adventure.
I must say though, we never wore helmets, only because we were never given them. Probably would be a good idea to ask for them next time.
Caz Makepeace´s last blog post ..A wider world means a smaller me

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Poi February 13, 2011 at 12:00 pm

Oooo naughty naughty, not many people wear them but with my inexperience it seemed like a good idea! And it’s the law haha

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Jo February 19, 2011 at 5:20 pm

I have a love/hate relationship with mopeds, I ride them all the time around Bali. I hate them because sometimes I feel so vulnerable but I do love the freedom. Nothing better than an open quiet road at around 6am in the morning.

I always where a helmet unless I am on a really quiet road. I really don’t understand people who do not where them?! Especially the way some westerners drive around this place. You may think you look a bit silly but you will look even more silly with a dent in your head. ;o)

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Poi February 19, 2011 at 11:14 pm

It’s true no-one looks cool with a dent in their head.

I understand your love/hate with them but like you say the freedom means it’s hard to stop using them once you’ve started…. I make it sound like heroin haha.

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Neli May 22, 2016 at 9:26 am

Great informative article. Thanks

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Poi May 25, 2016 at 2:09 pm

Thanks for reading!

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